May I help you, Madam?

When you come from a small rural farm community it can be very limiting in a world view. It takes some getting used to being called Madame or Mam by someone ready to serve you in any way they can. Yet these service workers are highly dependent upon your employment.

In this case to maintain this villa with four bedrooms, four bathrooms, and a separate maid’s quarters that also includes another bathroom; we are employing many service workers. We have a walled off courtyard with exotic trees and a water feature (some from our little town would call a wading pool). The windows are floor to ceiling and the buildings are much taller than normal with vaulted ceilings everywhere.

With all of this, we are employing a maid, a gardener, window washers, and a water feature worker (technically a pool boy). Many send money back to their families who are still living in the poor countries of their origin. Some have sad stories that make you realize; this is a much better life for them than we could possibly even understand.

My small rural village can be heard saying, “must be nice to have your lifestyle,” but it is an overly simplistic view on their part. These workers are highly dependent upon our employment, with that the workers can have visas, health care, and a place to live. Often the living arrangements are in the city where the workers are bused in from dorm like facilities where they share living space with many other workers. They seem thankful for the accommodations.

From an employer’s perspective it is difficult to manage the language barrier at times. I often feel like I am communicating with Emelia Bedelia and must be careful in the directions I give. I also feel like its hard to let others do work that I have done in the past and am very capable of doing myself. Also, having a service worker around your home regularly takes some getting used to. What an American may not realize, is that these service workers are highly dependent upon our employment and it is simplistic to make judgements about utilizing them. Maybe it would help to think of Downton Abbey if the show is familiar.

I have heard tales of cruel employers and often it is difficult to navigate for the workers to kind employers; but most of the American Expats have an appreciation for human dignity. Unfortunately, there are the desperate women service workers who try to exploit lonely working men who have their families in the states. But I think these relationships are highly transactional and the service women looking for a better life, hide when they must. It is no longer illegal for a woman (even a service worker) to live with a man that she is not married to. Cohabitation is quite common and many stay under the radar as it is difficult to discern if the service worker is a maid or a live in hoping for a better life.

All and all, the UAE has the best conceivable laws for service workers. Many want to come work here in the UAE. I also have witnessed the government trying to improve how they handle this type of necessary labor. Our country could glean many lessons in addressing the labor that so many of our own citizens do not want to do. Service workers are protected from exploitation by the stringent border control that operates to account for them, as well as insure legal employment.

This is a vastly different culture than most American’s are used to. Like anything, it takes an adjustment to appreciate the culture and find a place in it that feels comfortable. Learning new ways to navigate a life in a different country can offer a kind of larger understanding of people in the world around us. I highly recommend becoming an Expat!


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